Sun and Oracle take on Exchange

A tie-up between the server maker and enterprise software giant will aim to woo small businesses away from Microsoft's dominant collaboration software

Oracle and Sun Microsystems on Tuesday launched their latest broadside against Microsoft's hegemony in office software for small and medium-sized businesses, in the form of an Oracle collaboration suite running on relatively low-cost Sun hardware.

The product is part of a wider partnership between the two companies announced on Monday, which will see Oracle port its software to Sun's Solaris operating system on x86 processors from Intel and AMD. Sun and Oracle are both pushing their low-cost server products, hoping to tap into a growing market and at the same time woo small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) away from Microsoft products.

"We see this as an opportunity for Oracle and Sun to go to the market and compete with Microsoft on every aspect of the Microsoft economy," said Christopher Ward, a product marketing manager with Oracle. "We can go to a Microsoft account and say: 'We can give you an alternative to Microsoft, and a lot more as well.'"

The UK offering rests on Oracle's Collaboration Suite, which, like other Oracle software, has been for the first time certified to Sun's Solaris flavour of Unix running on x86 chips. Oracle has previously been available on Solaris on Sun's own Sparc chips. Sun is also now supporting Oracle's products on the open-source Linux operating system that has become a popular alternative to Unix and Windows on servers. The joint offering allows customers to choose Sun's Solaris or Linux platforms on either UltraSparc or x86 processors.

Sun also offers StarOffice, a direct competitor to Microsoft's dominant office suite.

Oracle's Collaboration Suite is designed to allow customers to cut costs by consolidating servers that might have run on several different machines into one integrated system. It offers Exchange-like email server features, but also voicemail, fax and file sharing, and can be accessed through various clients including Microsoft's Outlook.

The suite is based on Oracle's application server and database, which Oracle said gives it an edge on Exchange, making it easier to collaborate on documents and other data. "Microsoft and IBM have said they are planning database versions of Exchange and Notes, but we've already got it," said Ward.

Ward added that he feels the time is right for a serious competitor in the SME email server market, which has been dominated for years by Exchange and IBM's Lotus Notes. "Let's be honest, Notes and Exchange have not really gone forward in the last two or three years. They have really been milking their economy."

The companies will be offering aggressive finance packages to persuade companies to make the switch -- in some cases compensating them for the servers they are replacing, Oracle said. "There is a significant financial component to this, it isn't just technology," said Ward.

SMEs overwhelmingly use Windows software, but that appears to be changing, according to industry observers. "More and more of them are using Linux, we were surprised to find," said Karen Benson, vice president of research with Gartner. She said the shift might indicate an opportunity for Sun and Oracle, although "it is very early days".

Sun earlier tried to go after the SME market with its acquisition of Cobalt, a maker of so-called server appliances, but that initiative fell by the wayside when interest in appliances waned. However, smaller organisations may still interested in a Unix-based alternative, according to Benson. "They need all-in-one, turnkey solutions. Many of them still don't have in-house support," she said.

The companies have grown increasingly interested in lower-cost platforms partly out of necessity: with economic conditions remaining tough for businesses, demand for one- and two-way x86 servers has risen over the past four quarters, while demand for more complex servers has fallen, according to Gartner.

Sun and Oracle have already begun marketing the system, focusing on channel partners such as Compelsolve, SCC, Morse and Computacenter.

The two companies have worked closely together for many years, and Oracle said that 60 percent of its UK technology sales over the past five years have been on the Sun platform.

Sun has vowed to regularly release new products in the UK aimed at SMEs, and has already launched the Linux- and x86-based based Small Office Solution.


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